In our own words #37: “School is the key to life. That’s what I always told the kids.”

In our own words #37: “School is the key to life. That’s what I always told the kids.”

A crowd of men in their late teens and early twenties queue to disembark from the Aquarius. Amadou* is the only one who doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. He sits off to the side, in the shade. His pensive expression and his neat, pressed collared shirt make him stand out from the crowd. So does the gray five-o-clock shadow on his face.

“I was born in 1964, so I’m 52. I’m an auto mechanic. I’m married and I have seven children, five boys and two girls. I’m from Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. On May 1, just after the big Labour Day party, I gave half my savings to my wife and I hid the rest in my bag. And I left.”

Amadou lost his garage job during the economic crisis that followed a brief post electoral civil war in the country. “If you’re talking only about safety and security, it’s livable, but economically, it’s a disaster area,” he says. “No one is hiring,no one is giving credit.”  Amadou and his family were evicted from their home. The money his wife was making as a vegetable seller was barely enough to keep the children in school.

“School is the key to life. That’s what I always told the kids. When you go to school, whether you’re a boy or a girl, then you have a chance to do something in life.”

“My eldest is in his final year of secondary school this year,” Amadou specifies, as a group of boys around his son’s age pass by. “He wants to go to university and become a civil engineer. I want to leave Côte d’Ivoire, get a job and earn enough so that he and the others can finish their studies.”

The rubber boats that the Aquarius assists are often full of young dreamers, 17- and 18-year-olds who want to study, work and help support their parents. But it’s rare for older parents to make the trip alone.

“My friends all said, ‘Oh, you’re not as young as you used to be, you should really stay,’” he recalls. “But if I stay, then I have nothing and my family has nothing. Standing around and crying about it is not the solution. We had a family meeting and I decided to go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Amadou travelled by bus from Abidjan to Agadez, in Niger, and then continued by truck over the Libyan border. He reached Tripoli on May 10. “On the road all the guys called me Papa, Daddy, old man,” he remembers with a smile. He got lucky when he was able to find work in a garage shortly after arriving in Tripoli. “In Libya there aren’t enough people who are skilled in manual trades, so they hired me,” he says. “They paid me next to nothing, but they did pay me, and after two months I was able to pay for the rest of the trip.”

“In the desert, there were no roads and it was very, very hot. In the boat it was terrifying. I knew we might not survive the trip. But before I left I thought: If I try, maybe I’ll get lucky.”

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*Name has been changed.

Text: Ruby Pratka
Photo: Susanne Friedel